Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 15; 147:1-11, Numbers 16:36-50, Romans 4:13-25, Matthew 20:1-16
Several years ago my boss asked me to implement a survey of our board members and executives. When the due date for responses had passed, and only eight percent of the people had responded, he extended the due date. This happened twice more, and each time I grew increasingly frustrated and felt we were coddling the late respondents. When I asked why we were rewarding bad behavior, my boss explained: “The goal of this project is not to hold people to a schedule. It is to maximize participation so we have the best and most complete result.” His explanation changed my whole perception of the project.
One imagines people might have felt much the same way after Jesus told the parable of the workers in the vineyard. In that story, the owner of a vineyard hired men at various times of day, from early morning until just before evening, to work the remainder of the day. Regardless of when they started, all the men agreed to work for a denarius, roughly a day’s wages. The men who worked all day cried “unfair!” when the men who worked for an hour received the same compensation. The vineyard owner reminded them they’d all been paid what they’d agreed to and it was his money to distribute as he saw fit.
The full day’s wages represent the grace of God, which is available to us in full no matter when we receive it. Those who receive it later in the day – or in life – receive the same as those who arrive early.
The goal of this divine project is not to hold people to a schedule, but to maximize participation for the best and most complete result.
In a kingdom where the last are first, we may need to adjust our concepts of “fair” and “just.” Christ seems less concerned with efficiently doling out wages, than with extravagantly meeting needs. Having that vineyard owner for a boss might chafe our sense of fairness, but the business of the Kingdom is not business. Grace and mercy are not limited currency for us to earn and divide, but infinite light for us to reflect and multiply.
Comfort: We don’t have to keep track of each other’s spiritual debits and credits.
Challenge: We are asked to keep track of each other’s needs.
Prayer: God of grace and mercy, teach me to love abundantly and generously. Amen.
Discussion: In what situations does a seeming lack of fairness bother you most?
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